McLeod Theatre opens its curtains

By Chase Myers

A curtain with the words “Robin Hood” displayed was presented while performers took the stage for the opening number, a song that included an intentionally corny dance number and the sudden death of a leading lady.

What would come next would be a journey filled with humor and mystery.

The SIU theatre department opened its 2014-2015 season this weekend with the show “Curtains,” which was directed, and choreographed by Erica Gould, with help from associate choreographer Cody Walker, musical director and conductor Kevin Smith and many others.

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Gould is a musical director from New York and a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a labor union that helps direct and choreograph shows all over the country.

She is also a part of a program called the Guest Artist Initiative, which helps bring professional directors to colleges through an application and interview process.

The production included a six-week rehearsal process and night shows on Thursday through Saturday, followed by a matinee performance on Sunday.

“It has been challenging and thrilling,” Gould said.

Gould and the artistic staff decided to put a spin on the production that differs from the Broadway production, which posed problems because of the difference in space and cast, she said.

“I felt that there was another way to go than the way they did it originally that was more interesting to me,” she said. “I started to get ideas for going down a different road.”

The central plot of the production involves a show within a show, and takes place at the Colonial Theatre in Boston in 1959, just before it was renovated.

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The cast of “Robin Hood” is struggling and the leading lady is mysteriously murdered by poison at the end of the show.

Lt. Frank Cioffi, played by Chad Ferriell, a freshman from Newburgh, Ind. studying musical theatre, is put on the case and in order to narrow down the suspects, he locks the cast and crew in the theatre for the duration of the investigation.

“We’re site-specific,” Gould said. “Rather than putting a theatre on stage, why not be in the theatre in which the play takes place and the play is very much about the theatre.”

The cast and crew had the enormous task of transforming the theatre and taking the audience back in time, not only aesthetically through the set but in the way the characters act and interact with each other.

Ferriell’s character, Lt. Cioffi, serves as conflict resolution for the production and is one of the lead characters who has a secret love for theatre while becoming close to the cast in the process.

Ferriell said he had to adapt several of his characteristics for the show including weakening his posture and using a thick Boston accent, who he thanks SIU professor Susan Patrick Benson for helping him with.

“She just went over the basics [with me] of certain things that New Yorkers and Bostoners say,” he said. “She gave me the building blocks…and the voice was really fun to work with.”

Lt. Cioffi develops a love for one of the members of the suspected cast named Nikki Harris who is played by Alexis Nwokiji, a freshman from Mt. Juliet, Tenn. studying theatre.

Ferriell and Nwokoji developed a dynamic on stage and spent lots of time together developing their characters, Ferriell said.

“Working close with Chad was really easy because we’re both freshman,” Nwokoji said. “He kept very light-hearted and made it very easy to be his opposite because of that.”

Ferriell, Nwokoji and Gould said they would like to thank the whole cast and crew immensely as well as the artistic and technical staff who worked so hard to put the production together.

Chase Myers can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @chasemyers_DE or 536-3311 ext. 273

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